The interview took place at Das Packhaus, when Cristina Ampatzidou, an expert in architecture and urbanism from Greece, currently working in Rotterdam, came by. During her visit in Vienna, we had the chance to meet her and talk about temporary use, vacancy, her work and a lot more. It was a great opportunity to get a foreign approach to the topic. We could tell that her work is more to her than just a 9 to 5 job.
P: Cristina, thanks for stopping by at Das Packhaus. We are stoked that you could make the time to come over during your stay in Vienna. So, you are born in Greece, work and live in Rotterdam, travel a lot for work. Do you have a favorite city and for what reasons do you like it?
C.A.: I have a lot of favorite cities. One thing is that traveling is never a lot, and I have many favorite cities for very different reasons. I like Athens a lot, even though I am not from Athens. I like the city, because, for me, it is the definition of urbanity, in the sense that it is very vibrant and very dense, but also very dirty. It has this very big contrast between very beautiful parts and very ugly parts. And I think we need both in a city to appreciate it. I like Vienna a lot because it is a city that gives so much to its inhabitants. It is so accessible, so workable, it offers a lot of cultural events and it makes it so easy for the people to participate in urban life, which I find a very big gift, which the city can give to its people. It also motivates the people to give love back to the city. And of course, I like Rotterdam. I would not spend so much time living there if I did not like it and I like it because it has a very recent history because it was bombed. So somehow, coming from Greece, from a very old city, where the presence of this historical continuity is kind of omnipresent and you see every step. It was interesting to be in a city that had this rapture with its past and that its identity comes so much from this rapture and from the change that is happening right now and is happening very fast and it is very dynamic and I find this exciting.
P: If Vienna would be a person, what would it be like?
C.A: Really fun to hang out with. Very sociable, eager, definitely in the cultural sector and it has something to do with theatre. She could be like an opera singer, theatre director, cinematograph, but very colorful and performative and just very sociable (laughs).
P: What is the first thing you do, when you come to a city you have never been before?
C.A: I take a walk with no map.
P: On Twitter I saw you met with people from Play UC (Urban Complexity) in Vienna. What’s Play UC?
C.A.: Playing with urban complexity is a recent European project. I am doing my Ph.D. within this project. There are 4 partner universities involved and one of them is in Vienna. That is why I have to be here so often, which is very nice. The project is looking into the use of games in the participatory planning. There are 3 different cities that function as pilot cases. That way we look at different topics. For example, in Vienna it is how games motivate people to become more aware of their mobility patterns, use more public transportation and mobility solution, such as car-pooling. In Groningen, it has to do with making people aware of the energy transition and explain how the energy policy works and what they can do on different scales of involvement to facilitate this transition. And it is all through games, so it is a very fun way to do research as well.
P: You are one of the founders of the platform “amateur cities”. What’s the idea behind it?
C.A: Amateur cities started as an experiment of my partner and me to feel what we perceived is a gap in urban debate. That was the gap between these websites, which focus on republishing press releases about the latest design project of a famous architect. It is often very academic, inaccessible theory around it. Also to break open from this hermetic circle of just architects talking to other architects, or designers talking to other designers. We started with this idea that it has to be something that is very like generalist, very broad, it will bring people from very different disciplines together and it will be written in accessible language. Also because cities are so complex and so rich, they really need this very open view and this very open way to discuss them. It is a very amateur project as we do not have specific agenda, but it is also a love driven project.
P: How do you think media depicts temporary use nowadays?
C.A: That is a good question. I think it is extremely positive. It is presented much more positive than it actually is. But I am not sure how it has evolved through time, I don’t have overall picture of how the representation of temporary use has changed. I do think that is very much hyped at the moment. Perhaps to a certain extent also obscuring a negative aspect, which comes with temporary use. It is still a very precarious condition; it still capitalizes on people, who are not able to afford proper living or working space. These are all issues we should also consider and not only see the positive aspects of temporary use, but also the slightly negative ones.
P: In your article about “Rethinking vacancy” you talk about the internet taking over with platforms to match services with empty buildings. Why is this development in technology so important for vacancy?
C.A: I cannot disconnect it from a general development of technology. It is definitely connected to the whole rise of the service economy, because ultimately all these apps and digital services, they just facilitate certain processes. But the model is basically the same. There is a demand and an offer and they just function as … to connect this too. Same thing happens with vacant spaces. I think where it is really is based on, is the fact that vacancy is really becoming a really huge issue for cities. It has a very big impact to the gradation of the urban environment. There are more and more real estate owners or property owners, who are willing to experiment with alternative forms of occupation. And basically all these platforms are kind of capitalizing on this openness to facilitate this exchange. It is definitely part of a broader technology development.
„… vacancy is really becoming a really huge issue for cities. It has a very big impact to the gradation of the urban environment. There are more and more real estate owners or property owners, who are willing to experiment with alternative forms of occupation. And basically all these platforms are kind of capitalizing on this openness to facilitate this exchange.“
I also very much question how much the digital layer can add to this, because I think, especially when it comes to temporary use, the physical presence is very important. So because a large part of the trade-off comes having people in the building and not just renting it out to somebody, who is willing to move out at one month notice. But also this person is there, his physical presence in the building is making a difference for the whole streetscape. For an issue, where the physical aspect is so strong, I also question what is the real potential of those tools. It is something to be discussed of course.
P: Where do you see the biggest potential of temporary use?
C.A: In experimentation with potential future of buildings, where their use either has been redundant or that it is not useful anymore. Also with creating different models of occupation. I think a lot of ideas about like mixed use and coexistence of different functions, which before were considered incompatible with each other, they can come precisely, because there is not the pressure of a permanent spacial setting. So on that field, with experimenting both with different gap functions within a building and of a building, I think it is the biggest potential of temporary use.
P: What are urban challenges connected to temporary use we are facing today?
C.A: The main challenge is the fact that the profit from temporary use is disproportionally allocated to the part of the property owner/developer, because in a lot of cases the renters of temporary spaces have limited rights. So they also have limited access to the value that has been added, both to the building and the area by their activities. This profit goes mainly to the property developers, who at the end are very much rewarded for facilitating this to a much larger extent.
You know, it is very nice, before you had an empty building, like broken windows, something that looked very disserted. It is very nice that suddenly there is a lot of activity, usually creative people, artists or young people, who take these spaces over temporarily. So they really bring a lot of freshness to the street and to the building and they put a lot of energy into it, but at the end they are also being kicked out after a short or long period, it does not matter. At the end, they just have to move on. They don’t have to choice to claim, we want to stay or we want live in our own terms.
„It is very nice that suddenly there is a lot of activity, usually creative people, artists or young people, who take these spaces over temporarily.“
I think it points both to the very positive things, it is indeed a very active way to utilize building, but it also comes to a certain cost for people involved.
P: Uncertainty concerning to unknown moving-out date is a challenge for some people.
C.A: I also live in a temporary house and actually it is the fourth temporary house I live in. In the beginning we had very difficult. In our first house we invested a lot of time and money as well and a lot of work. In the end we had to move out within a few months. In our second house we were really like “this time we are not going to do the same mistake again”, we are going to do the minimum possible, but then we stayed there like 5 years. If we would have known, we would not freeze every winter or we treat the building differently. And there is always this uncertainty. To make the system more fair, there should always be some kind of security, some kind of minimum stay, because then it allows to plan a little bit the involvement in the project, the time, the energy you want to invest and it’s a little bit more fair.
„To make the system more fair, there should always be some kind of security, some kind of minimum stay, because then it allows to plan a little bit the involvement in the project, the time, the energy you want to invest and it’s a little bit more fair.“
In Holland in general, because you have temporary use for many years already, somehow you could really see how it started as a very niche project, that was based on individual negotiations between people, who wanted to have a project and the building owner. And you really need to have both agreeing in this, then I become more and more common, you started to have more projects, it became almost of model of doing things, it became normal and now the market is taking over and is becoming a fashion, almost an industry and that’s kind of taking out the initial dynamic, but also the innovation
There are real-estate companies specialized in providing temporary spaces, but they have grown to a level that is almost a full industry. So they have a lot of lobbying power with the municipality. They have a lot of building. They have a lot of negotiating power and what you see is that both the renting gap becomes closer and closer to permanent spaces for market prices and the space for negotiating is getting smaller. Basically when they occupy such a big part of the building, you have very little alternatives. A lot of temporary use project, that are initiated now are very much commercially driven, and not on a kind of young entrepreneurial level, but really on a almost corporate level, which makes it less attractive for people to get involved. If I can rent a place in the market for just a little bit more than I can rent a temporary space, then why would not I do it and not have the uncertainty of temporary use. It is also something that is in a way the future for this kind of project and maybe it is not the most hopeful one.
P: How do you think can people be attracted in participating in temporary use?
C.A: I think in general, not only in temporary use, people should be able to see what is in it for them. Not in terms of direct profit, but why it could be interesting for them or why should they care about such project. In that sense, information is a good thing to start. If people do not know about something already, they will never find it. And maybe, not everyone needs to be involved or be interested in it. Some people are just fine having their normal job in an office somewhere and they do not have to be occupied with thinking about temporary use.
My research is also about participation, how can you get people engaged in topic of urban planning issues and I think there is this underline assumption that everybody should participate in everything, because the issues are so broad that they concern us all, but not everybody can and wants to be involved and that’s fine. They should not be forced.
P: In a panel discussion of the “Vacant city” seminar in Estonia they were talking about the opportunity that refugees could take part in the temporary use process. They could help a lot in re-using facilities or renewing public services. What’s your opinion on it?
C.A: I think it is true, but I do not see why refugees in particular. I read somewhere recently that there are three times more empty homes that there are homeless people in Europa. So there are groups of people who are more in need and they could indeed make use of theses spaces and help reactivate them and it can also be of great help for groups of people that need this kind of support. So in principle I agree it could be very good for refugees but I think it is perhaps the most prominent topic at the moment, but it is definitely not the only group of people, who can help and needs this kind of support.
P: If you need to describe temporary use in 3 words, how would you?
C.A: (Cristina gets a pen and writes down the words which came to her mind) Ok, I have three words. Precarity, creativity and gentrification.
P: What do you think is the future of working?
C.A: This is very broad. I think there is a big polarization in the way that work environments are changing. Work has been changing. Because on one hand, you can see, how cooperations become bigger and bigger and on the other hand how smaller companies become smaller and smaller in the sense that you have this class of freelancers and people who work on their own or temporary with different partners that are more project based. So there is this kind of gap of these two is becoming bigger. We have small, medium and large sized companies and the public sector. Now the public sector and the middle-sized companies are shrinking, the two ends are becoming bigger evidently. I find this a bit scary, because this ecosystem. When it is disseapearing.
„Work has been changing. Because on one hand, you can see, how cooperations become bigger and bigger and on the other hand how smaller companies become smaller and smaller in the sense that you have this class of freelancers and people who work on their own or temporary with different partners that are more project based.“
More people may be trapped by a situation, which are not suitable for their skills or attitude. I do not want to say if it s good or bad. It is just that you do not have a big variety of positions and ways of working and that it is very possible to do not make optimal use of the work force. This is not very encouraging.
P: We are in Das Packhaus, were we are offering work spacing/ co-working spaces. What do you think is the future of working space?
C.A: Co-working is going to become much more common and widespread. I think it is partly because real estate prices become unaffordable. A model where you can share a place becomes also more accessible for a lot of people and because it addresses this class of people who work on their and freelancer, you see that they are always working in cafés or flexible working spaces. So just one person with a laptop. A lot of jobs work like this. For people, this faces a problem, who really need space and really need equipment, like people who are into the crafts. They really need fixed places, and places that offer them a specific infrastructure and access to equipment, which is becoming for and more difficult to find, because this kind of model of co-working is becoming the dominant model. I can totally see it taking over but I really wonder what will happen to all this other need for working space.
„A model where you can share a place becomes also more accessible for a lot of people and because it addresses this class of people who work on their and freelancer, you see that they are always working in cafés or flexible working spaces. „
About the author
Anna Steinkellner is passionate about urban development. As part of her Geography degree at the University of Vienna, she did an internship at Paradocks to focus on temporary use and vacancy in cities. When not studying in Vienna, the 22 year old student explores the globe. Currently traveling in Indonesia, Anna loves seeing different places and cultures all over the world.